Category Archives: Travel

Ironman 70.3 Vietnam 2016

One year on from my first half-ironman, the butterflies in the stomach have mostly flown away, replaced by expectations. Last year I was just hoping to finish in one piece, and I came in at 6:22hr.

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Team TriEdge on the day before the race

This year, I had set myself a target time of <6 hrs. Just to be clear, for those unfamiliar with finishing times for half-Ironman triathlons, this isn’t a time that even remotely challenges podium winners. In fact, they are almost done with their run by the time I set off on my run leg. (This year’s winner finished in 3:54hr!)

SWIM

Compared to Putrajaya where everyone seemed to have been funneled into a mass orgy in the water, there was a relatively wide berth for swimmers. But sighting became an issue without any tall buoys used as turn markers at the far ends of the course. I ended up trying to swim behind whichever feet I could find. Also, found myself being pushed into the ropes more than I liked, and getting back out into open water was a bit of a pain. Ended up with a 37+ min swim, which was about 1:30min quicker than last year, and there was no Roka speedsuit this year.

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Into T1…

T1

Long run in to T1. I had the shoes already clipped in, so it felt like I hardly had anything to do apart from getting the helmet and sunnies on before getting the bike out.

Bike

I felt my inner knee/lower thighs starting to burn quite early in the ride, and that wasn’t something I was expecting. About 5km out, I knew something was wrong. I was sitting more upright than normal. I looked down at my seat and saw that the marking I had made to indicate the right seat post height could not be seen.

My seat post had sunk. 😦

This means that you’re riding in a position that doesn’t allow for you to use all the muscles you’re supposed to be employing.  Knowing that Coach Mike would be out on the bike course, I was hoping he would have an Allen key with him. Still, it wasn’t too bad as I managed to push 33-35 on some stretches, and even started wondering if I should bother with the seat adjustment. But I told myself that even if I managed to push hard now, this less-than-ideal position would mean sapping strength from my legs, and I would be suffering (even more) on the run.

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That sinking feeling. Literally.

Turns out Coach Mike didn’t have the tools with him anyway, so I pushed on.The last 20km on the bike was as painful as I remembered last year with the crosswinds, and the low seat certainly didn’t help. A slightly modified course meant that at least we had a tailwind on the last 6km, which was a nice morale booster. Finished in 2:57hr, just over 10 min quicker than last year. I’d like to think I would have gone quicker without my seat fiasco! After the race, I found that the seat post had gone down by an inch.

LESSON: bring the damn tools!

T2

This was a big downer last year -Going out and seeing most bikes still racked in T1, but coming back in T2 and seeing most bikes back already. This year, not so many were back. by the time I came in. 😉  Not much else to say after I decided to go with a semi-new pair of shoes and run sock-less.

RUN

The first 5km was relatively ok, coming in under 30 min. But each km gradually got tougher, and I was eventually overtaken by my team mate Filippo. Happy for him, but it pretty much confirmed my pace was slipping. I was losing hope that I would crack the 6hr target, but I didn’t bother to do the math. Just wanted to finish as close to the 2 hour mark as possible for the run and hope for the best. Coach Mike shouted at me not to think about everything else earlier on, and focus on what’s ahead. VERY USEFUL ADVICE. Just tried to keep my eye on Filippo and the size of the gap when he U-turned. The 10-15km mark was relatively uneventful, and I was actually waiting to be caught by my other team mates at some point but it didn’t happen.

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Trying to hail a cab. (I’m only half-joking)

Later I realised how much they had to deal with (Regis with a badly stubbed and swollen toe and Philippe with severe food poisoning) and still finished their race! I tried to step up the pace somewhere after 15km, but the gear just didn’t seem to click. Once I got to about 4km to go, the strength started to come back. Not sure if it was because I consciously tried to take less stuff at the aid stations in the last few km? I found I could kick harder and eventually overtook Filippo, who had slowed down. Got over the line, looked down at the watch. Run: 2:10hr (17 min quicker than last year)

Total time: 5:52hr. Mission accomplished.

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With Filippo, who helped pull me forward in the last 3km, and placed 4th in his age group!

Special thanks to Coaches Scott and Mike for all the advice and coaching, and all the members of the TriEdge family for the encouragement! As they say here in Singapore, “Semangat“. 😉 Go google it, you know you want to!

(All images here by Michael Lyons and Gladys Kwok)

DNG #33: Here’s looking at Chu

Like I’ve said before, I’ll save money where I can, given the relatively high overall cost of being involved in Triathlon.

Choice of accommodation at an overseas race is can be a big chunk of change, depending on how many days you decide to arrive before the race, and how many days you decide to chill after.

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That's the "Chu"

After going through the options and reviews on Tripadvisor and Agoda, Chu Hotel seemed the best compromise in terms of cost and proximity to the race start. It’s about right smack between the Hyatt Regency and town (the Bach Dang strip next to the river) –  5km from Hyatt, 4km from town.

a map!
Location in relation to the other important sites

Room is spacious enough to set up a bicycle, which is important for this stay! Lift is a bit small-ish though, so getting a bigger bike box in is a problem, as I learned. The staircase is also quite narrow, so getting it up to your room may be hell. I was on the 2nd floor, thankfully. Not looking forward to bringing it down again.

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Better than basic, I think!

Staff are friendly, and basic english isn’t a problem. Even a little corner for live music. There’s a minimart a few doors down the street that opens till midnight for any toiletries or snacks you might need/want.

Cost: S$66 per night (after tax). Includes daily breakfast. I had to extend another night, and got it for even cheaper. I’d recommend mailing them direct to see if they have any promotions that may be cheaper than the rates you find on the usual hotel booking sites.

In comparison, staying at the official race hotel (Hyatt Regency) would have set me back S$333 per night (more than my entire stay at the Chu!). Bit too rich for my liking.

DNG #32: Getting mobile broadband (3G/4G) at Tan Son Nhat airport (Ho Chi Minh city a.k.a. Saigon)

My post on getting internet service on mobile in Hanoi seems to get me a consistent stream of traffic, so thought this would be a useful follow-up.

If you’re travelling to Ho Chi Minh City and can’t live without cheap/free internet, you’ll want a local SIM card. While wifi is quite frequently offered at F&B establishments in urban Vietnam (Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh), it’s spotty, and not practical when you’re using the internet to help you navigate.

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Once you’re out of the immigration area, you’ll go down either one of two escalators to the luggage carousels. Pick up your bag(s) if you have any and head out the customs clearance. If you’re at the doors with the larger numbers, you’ll be closer to the shop you need to go to. But don’t worry anyhow, just need to walk a little bit further if you’re at the other end of the (small) Tan Son Nhat airport.

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Immediately after you have your bags pass through the scanners, you’ll pass through some sliding doors. Turn left and walk to the end. Go to the LAST shop.The staff in the last shop speak good English, and will understand your questions and requests easily. Don’t go to the outdoor area where the general public (waiting taxi drivers, relatives, random people) gather. If you have, you’ve gone too far! Not sure if you can u-turn, but you can get the same SIM card in town, I’m sure.

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Note that my personal preference is for Vinaphone. I’ve tried Mobifone before, and the coverage didn’t seem as good. The shop next door (2nd last shop) carries Mobifone/Viettel I think, but I’ll stick with what I know.

There’s a promotion (as of yesterday, 8 May) where you get 5GB of data for 100,000VND. That’s about S$6, or US$5. Pretty damn good deal compared to Singapore.

But I went for the “D1” deal where you buy a SIM card for 148,000VND and you get 1GB of data every day when you SMS “D1 on” to “888” for 5,000VND (S$0.30 or US$0.23). If you exceed that 1GB, you just SMS “D1 on” again and you can do this 3 times a day apparently. (I’ve never exceeded 1GB a day, I think, but just in case…) Don’t worry about figuring out what kind of SIM card you have, what settings you need to fiddle with. Just hand your phone to the ladies and they’ll get you sorted. You’ll also need to hand them your passport for them to make a photocopy.

Happy surfing!

Heritage House, Hanoi

One of the smaller “museums” – if you can call it one – is the one along Ma May (almost opposite the famous “New Day” restaurant – review coming up) called the Heritage House.

Heritage House
Looking in…

It’s got an entrance fee 10 – 30,000VND (can’t quite recall), but that works out to about S$1.80 at most, which is really a steal.

once you step in...
Front of house

Once you wander past the “main lobby”, chances are you might spot this old man. He offered to draw me, but I didn’t want to  waste his ink. :p

He'll draw you, for a fee I bet!
Artist and his work

If you like taking photos, this is a nice place to shoot. It’s been designed to maximise airflow and lets in plenty of natural light. Combined with dust and time, the house and its contents have aged gracefully.

green!
Floating green plants. Tell me if you know what they’re called!
Assam?
Left hanging
bird in a cage
Birdcage with bird. Not for sale – i checked.

There’s more stuff upstairs, so don’t forget to make your way up the narrow stairs…

Chinese chessboard
Chess game abandoned?

Unfortunately, it seems as if the proprietors are eager (maybe too eager) to squeeze their VND from every nook and cranny  available. What happens is that nearly everything on display is on sale. From small knick knacks and snacks, to paintings and opium pipes!

Buddhas of various colours and sizes
Bring Buddha home
Big pipes
Opium not included

I feel the folks in Penang who also have their own UNESCO World Heritage site, have a better idea of how to earn money from curious tourists, but are conscious in preventing things from getting over-commercialised. i.e. sustainable heritage tourism. Here’s hoping the Vietnamese people latch on to these ideas before all that’s left are crunky souvenirs in an oversized giftshop. Lots more photos in my Hanoi Flickr album.

Dac Kim: Hanoi’s best Bun Cha?

There are spring rolls and there’s pho… but you really haven’t been to Hanoi / Vietnam if you haven’t had Bun Cha.

Hanoi's best Bun Cha?
Nha Hang Dac Kim Bun Cha

This was the first place we tried for Bun Cha, and frustratingly, everyone else I’ve asked subsequently points me to this same joint. It’s not that the food wasn’t good (it was GREAT!), but it did feel as if we were being charged “tourist” prices at 100,000VND per person, which is about 3 times the price at less famous roadside joints. To be fair, we did try alternatives and they were all lesser incarnations, so maybe Dac Kim knows they’ve got the market cornered. To be more specific, the lesser incarnations are likely to only come with the meat patties in broth (which still tends to be dry) and without the spring rolls.

Meat heaven
Bun Chaaaaaaarge!!!

There’s no need to stress about what to order. Just tell them how many people are eating and they haul out the corresponding motherload of meat. The meats and sauces are just FAB. BEW. LUSS. One of the staff came over to point at what goes with what, but frankly every combo – no matter how strange it may seem to a Hanoian – tastes amazing. The crispy Nem Cua Be (Crab Springrolls) go perfectly with the bowl of sauce that you flavour accordingly (depending on your heat and bad breath tolerance) with chili padi and garlic. You can then dunk chopstickfuls (did I just invent a new word?) of white noodles into that bowl of porky paradise. The broth is flavourful without being overpowering, containing slices of meat that live in harmony with mini patties of ground meat wrapped in a little green leaf. They didn’t live very long.

Lots & lots of greens.
Eat your veggies! Or maybe not…

Hygiene tip: There’s a wise saying that if you want to eat good street food, try not to see how it’s prepared. Unfortunately, I was curious enough to see what happened to the mountain of assorted greens that comes with each Bun Cha portion. Most people are unlikely to get even half-way through. Turns out that the leftovers go back into the central pile of vegetables to be dished out to the next customer. I’m already not a fan of coriander, so this moment of “enlightenment” made sure I never had raw vegetables again in Hanoi – especially when they come in generous piles.

dong dong qiang
Your friendly neighbourhood music shop

Next door is a interesting distraction while you’re chomping down with god knows how many musical instruments stuffed into a store. Meat + Music = Yumm… And don’t forget the beer (or “bia” as the Vietnamese say…)

Address:
Dac Kim Bun Cha
1 Hang Manh
Hanoi, Vietnam

 

 

Getting fried at Quan Goc Da

We were looking for Nguyen Sinh along Ly Quoc Su after a recommendation by smittenbyfood when we came across  this place.

Fry
The Hanoi version of Old Chang Kee?

Didn’t think much of it the first time we passed it in the day time, but when the crowd picked up in the evening, it looked like something we had to try.

People enjoying their fried stuff
You don’t get this sort of crowd at an Old Chang Kee!

Think there might be some minimum order thing going on as they didn’t seem too pleased when the Indonesian (I think) couple ahead of me ordered a few items. Being the greedy Singaporean, I didn’t face any problem. Hur hur. I think the staff may be more forgiving if you’re ordering only a few pieces for take-away, as we did on our second visit.

Nom nom nom
From left, in descending order of delish! Didn’t touch the veggies (will explain in my post on Bun Cha)

What to eat: Ordering is a challenge as I had no idea what each item was, but pointing works and the boss lady knows her English well enough to tell you how much it all costs.  The skinny long thing (1st item on the left on the plate) is some fried seafood item that’s my personal favourite. The fried spring roll (middle on the plate) is pretty good too – suspect this is the Nem Cua Be (or Crab Springroll). The thing that looks like a curry puff has mushrooms in it. Not bad either! Tell me if you know their real names!

Quan Goc Da in action
Boss lady (centre) and her crew. There’s actually a board in the shop (behind the red clock) that has English translations of the food items.

Address:
Quan Goc Da

52 Ly Quoc Su
Hoan Kiem District 
Hanoi

Hanoi 2013: Getting an internet connection on your mobile device

Another trip and I haven’t finished posting about the last one. What’s new. :p

Made my maiden visit to Vietnam, and here are a couple of tips on hooking up to the internet while in Hanoi.

When you arrive at Noi Bai airport, exit customs and turn right.

Arrival waiting area
What you see when you exit customs

You might come across an information counter along the way and if you ask, they’ll point you in the same direction, telling you to look for the “Post Office”.

Nobody at the post office
Nobody’s home at the “Post Office” at the moment

Nobody was around when I got to the Post Office, so I got directed to the minimart next door.

They have everything
They sell everything and the kitchen sink

The tricky thing is they sell full-sized SIM cards here, and if you’re using something that requires a microSIM that most of us take for granted these days (like an iPhone or Samsung S3), it’s going to be a gamble. The first SIM card that they massacred cut didn’t work when slot into my S3 – No SIM detected. They then went on to snip another one which worked. Unfortunately, I tried removing the SIM card a few days later (long story… ) and it didn’t work after I put it back. From the looks of it, the ladies at the airport cut too close to the shiny gold portion on the SIM card. (sorry, no photo!) I looked around for a shop that could slice up a new microSIM for me, but couldn’t find one in time before we headed to Halong Bay, where I assumed reception would be rubbish anyway.

When I got back, I recalled seeing a shop that wouldn’t look out of place in Sim Lim along Hang Bac street. Turns out I was right! Think the shop’s called “Cua Hang

Best place to get your microSIM!
53 Hang Bac… Bingo!

The great thing is that the dude in the shop speaks decent English and could tell me exactly how much each minute and kb of data would cost, though I’ve completely forgotten now.

Both times (at the airport and at Hang Bac), I was offered a prepaid mobifone SIM card which apparently gives better value than competitors Vina and Viettel (can’t even find their websites, actually!). The standard starter pack costs 150,000VND. On average, I ran out of 100,000VND (approx S$6) value every day with fairly heavy usage. Even with double the load (200,000 VND or S$12), it’s still cheaper than the S$20/day I would have had to pay SingTel for their Bridge Dataroam, but granted the SingTel deal is for unlimited data. At the moment, SingTel charges more for data in Vietnam than places like Thailand and Malaysia which cost S$15/day.

Or if you really don’t want to bother, wifi seems widely available in most cafes and restaurants though I think some are heavily overloaded (e.g. Highlands Cafe along Nhà Thờ) and the connection really crawls. Free wifi in hotels is more widely available than many other places I’ve visited!

Homeless in Hong Kong

I heard a lot about Goods Of Desire (G.O.D.) before I made my virgin trip up to Hong Kong. Waayyyyy back in 2010, it was a great place to shop for kitschy, unconventional, quirky stuff for the home. They’ve since set up shop in Singapore too, but sadly I find the selection here not quite as happening as what I seem to remember in HK.

During this latest trip, I made a lucky find while having lunch at Sing Heung Yuen. The Foursquare entry for this hole-in-the-wall eatery had a tip that suggested shopping at “Homeless” across the street.

Watch out for the construction!
The Homeless storefront

That neon sign + industrial material is eye-catching, and you can’t help but wander into the warmly-lit store with your wallet open.

Wasn't sure if I was allowed to take pictures, so I missed the front of the store!
Walk a little further in and the store opens up

There’s really quite a lot to see, and I really took my time looking through everything to make sure I didn’t miss any of the little gems everywhere.

Guess what I bought here?
Mobile phone and tablet accessories, but not of the night-market knock-off variety
Guess which one I bought here??
Ice can be a great conversation starter if it comes in the right shape
Tick tock
A few cool clocks
Optical toys
Kaleidoscopes (can’t remember exactly how much, but they’d make pretty nice gifts, methinks)

 

Came mighty close to getting this!
DIY Cat Playhouse comes in Fire Truck, Tank, & Plane variations!
Cute overload
Brilliant if DJ Mao actually takes to scratching this!

There are stores in Singapore that carry some of these items like Molecule, Totally Hot Stuff, and other smaller players who I can’t remember. But I don’t think any of them have the sheer concentration of “I-want-to-buy-this!!!” items that Homeless carries.

The address for the Central Flagship store(s) i.e. the one described above:

28 & 29 Gough Street, Central, Hong Kong (It’s actually 2 stores facing each other!)
Tel: +852 2581 1880
Opening hours: 11.30 – 21.30hrs (mon – sat), 12.00 – 18.00hrs (sun & holidays)

Also visited the Tsim Sha Tsui Flagship store, which I felt was more mall-ish, and hence more sterile than the Central store. And for good measure, checked out the Causeway Bay Store too. This one is up a few flights of stairs and is cramped. Careful when you make any sudden movements with your backpacks & shopping bags! Didn’t spot the sign, but “You break, you buy” likely applies here too.

Tsim Sha Tsui Flagship store
L8, The One, 100 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2997 8192
Opening hours: 12.00 – 22.00hrs (sun – thu), 12.00 – 22.30 (fri & sat)

Causeway Bay store
1 – 3/F, 19 Yun Ping Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2890 8789
Opening hours: 12.00 – 21.30 (mon – sat), 13.00 – 21.00 (sun & holidays)

Visit their website (www.homeless.hk) for more information (there’s one other store in Shatin and they operate F&B outlets too apparently)

Now to back to G.O.D.

The rate at which Hong Kong moves is brutal, and it was quite sad to see the G.O.D. at Silvercord having a “removal sale”. Remember getting quite a few things there during my last trip. There wasn’t very much stuff left by the time we got there. This was a potential candidate for purchase, but even it didn’t work out.

Monkeys everywhere
Paul Frank sheets – but they don’t come in King size because it isn’t a very common bed size in HK apparently.

Darwinism applies to retail too, I guess.

Survival of the fittest...
Bye bye Silvercord G.O.D.